“I’d rather you drink here than somewhere else” is the classic Cool Mom line, a line my mom said many times throughout my high school career. It felt like an invitation, like she couldn’t wait for me to ask her to go on a beer run. To prove that I trusted her, I trusted our home to be a safe space for me to break the rules— I never drank in high school.
I don’t know how it happened, I was a studious child who grew into a studious young adult. But I wish someone was harsher on me, forced me to try harder, shoved ivy league brochures into my tiny teen hands. Instead, my mom just allowed me to try whatever I wanted, be whomever I wanted. I know, it’s horrible. Unconditional love? I’d trade it for Yale.
Sick days were a rarity, despite the four weekly migraines I averaged – I mention this to show my bravery. Lying in bed, I’d start the Sick Day Ritual of watching Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. A little on the nose, sure, but I loved living through Ferris. And by that I mean, I loved living through Cameron.
The first time we see Cameron, he’s lying in bed, pale as a clam with no shell. Medicines of various drug classes surround him. The curtains are drawn. “I’m dying,” he states. I want his down comforter.
Unlike my mother, who wanted me to do whatever I wanted to do, letting me know that all classic teen experiences were on the table, Cameron’s parents didn’t care about his teen experience. His dad is borderline in love with a convertible, and his mom is a ghostly extension of his father. Their marriage is, according to Cameron, an unhappy one. While we never see them, their apathy is shown through Cameron’s anxious angst, and the way he has to feign death in the hopes someone will care. They don’t.
Ferris, a professional school skipper, calls his dear friend Cameron in the hopes that he will hop out of bed and join him in Chicago-based debauchery. Cameron refuses, citing his illness and his parents, even though we have previously established, they don’t care because they don’t notice. Suddenly, Cameron is arguing with himself in the driver’s seat of his car. He’s anxious to leave, he’s anxious to stay. He doesn’t want to disappoint Ferris, and that makes him mad.
And then he’s gone.
The whole day, Cameron floats between having fun with the world around him and dreaming up every reason to go home. At one point, while at the top of the Sears Tower with Sloane and Ferris, Cameron spots what he assumes to be his father, 103 floors below. No matter where he goes, he can’t seem to escape the pressure of his parents and the need to impress them academically.
For me, high school was sort of like a day job where I clocked in, did my little tasks, then clocked out, and somehow that was enough to be recognized by those in charge. When I went to college, I learned that education is a pursuit, rather than something that happens toward you. After a particularly haunting first midterm experience, I decided I never again wanted a grade other than an A. When out with friends, if I actually made it out the door, I was mentally studying. Panic crept up my throat and wrapped around my head, forming a knit cap of a headache. Suddenly, I was gone, relieved to be home. And then I’d stare at the wall. My phone. Out the window. Anywhere but my textbooks or my notes or anything pertaining to my schoolwork. Another panic formed. Was I wasting my time? Would I ever get a job? Would I like that job? Hours would pass as I holed myself up in this fugue state. I’d snap out of it, angry my decision paralysis had once again let time slip away.
Similarly, Cameron can’t pull himself out of his constant foreboding. That is until the trio goes to the Art Institute of Chicago. Cutting back and forth from Sloane and Ferris kissing in front of a stained glass piece I wish I knew, Cameron has an epiphany; looking into the eyes of a small, random French girl made up of paint dots in George Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, he is awakened. He recognizes what he admires in Ferris, and what his own self-doubt keeps him from. “Ferris Bueller, you’re my hero,” sarcastic and sincere, Cameron finally vocalizes a near-positive observation.
I’ve seen the painting in person. I stared and stared, and yet here I am, still staring at the wall. I’ve long graduated school, but I still fear to learn. “I’m bullshit. I put up with everything. I gotta take a stand!” Cameron and I both wanted someone to push us, to make us crack, break, and rebuild into an improved version of ourselves. And then we realized we had the power to do that. I still don’t know how to use it.